The Federal Trade Commission Tuesday announced new rules for the marketing of Four Loko malt beverages, which were in hot water last year amid a wave of complaints that the drinks were dangerous and responsible for several hospitalizations and deaths.
The rules are part of concessions won by the FTC, which had investigated Four Loko's creator, Phusion Projects, for claiming that a 23.5 ounce can of the drink contained the alcoholic equivalent of one or two 12-ounce beers and that it was safe to consume in one sitting. The FTC alleged in the original suit that Four Loko actually contained about four or five beers' worth of alcohol.
Here are the most important changes: Phusion will be required to print an "Alcohol Facts" panel on all containers of Four Loko or any other flavored malt beverage that has more than two servings of alcohol, following an OK from the Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
This is different from the initial rules proposal, which only required a disclosure for products with more alcohol than two and a half regular beers. The proposal also required a front-of-the-can disclosure, rather than an "Alcohol Facts" panel, which is part of a wider push from the TTB.
The labels will include prominently displayed facts about the product's container size, alcohol by volume, number of servings in the container and serving size in fluid ounces, plus the following statement: “According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, a serving contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol.” Phusion will have 90 days to add the panel once it receives TTB's approval.
The settlement also gives Phusion six months to package its malt beverages with more than two and a half servings of alcohol in resealable containers, in order to discourage the notion that the drinks should be downed in a single sitting.
In a response to complaints submitted to FTC, the governing body stressed earlier this month that it does not have the authority to ban Four Loko or to force Phusion to limit the alcoholic content of its products.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Four Loko products contained caffeine. They have not since November of 2010. Language has been modified in the article to reflect that the settlement did not address the veracity of the FTC's claims regarding the contents of Four Loko.